I have learnt something valuable while writing about politics this week. Don’t write about politics. South African politics is a richer source of stories than most other countries. We have great heroes and evil villains (often the same person). We have heart-warming triumphs and heart-breaking tragedies. But I’m not going to tell you any more of those stories. Not unless something really unusual pops up.
It’s not that the stories aren’t worth telling. They are. They just don’t fit into something as small as a blog post. I can’t do them justice. I start off by remembering or reading something funny or odd. The stories are usually fairly simple on the surface. And if all the people reading this were South African, it would be great fun telling them again. But most of you are not South African. So the stories need a bit of background.
About three hundred and fifty years of background. And it’s not just the amount of background that I would need to put in. It’s the nature of it. It’s pretty sobering stuff. If you scratch off the surface of even the most outlandish and laughable of our stories, you’ll find something ugly. Or tragic. Or infuriating.
As South Africans, we go ahead and laugh anyway. Unless we’re weeping. Or raging. It’s our way of coping. But we are used to it because we live with it every day.
I was going to tell you the story of Angie’s panties today. I thought it was funny when I first read it. I still do. But the background story leaves me seething. The Angie in question is Angie Motshekga. She’s the Minister of Basic Education. A few weeks ago, a bunch of teachers organised a strike. Tens of thousands of teachers stayed away from work. Thousands of teachers marched on the union buildings.
People really sat up and noticed. This march had a powerful effect on the emotional well-being of our government as a whole, and Ms Motshekga in particular. Because of this;
Shocking, isn’t it. It is a pair of panties stretched over a wire frame. The writing basically says “Angie’s Panties”. I don’t know how we as a society are going to bounce back from this. But we are doing our best. Our government has swung into action. The Gender Commission has been approached. The ANC Women’s’ League wanted to take the matter to court. Open letters were written to the Trade Union bosses hammering on about respect for women and our patriarchal society.
It was a regular old bun-fight. It was all a bit of a hoot. Our government was mobilising to deal with an unimaginable threat. Panties. Yellow ones. Huge yellow panties. Could our democracy survive? Now here’s a bit of that unfortunate background stuff I was telling you about.
Angie is, as I say, Minister of Basic Education. One of the stated reasons for the strike was that, on her watch, her department failed to deliver school books to huge numbers of children last year. When she was first made aware of this, she laughed it off a no big deal. And failed to do anything. Her department had to be taken to court before they sorted out the mess.
Other reasons for the March were that the teachers wanted Angie’s deputy-general to resign because they thought he was corrupt. And that the department had reneged on an agreement to increase salaries.
But that’s just one side of the story. Our teachers aren’t exactly as pure as the driven snow. They strike for several weeks every year. The kids stay home and learn nothing. The pass rate for our kids has been dropped to an embarrassing 30%. Kids are routinely sexually abused by teachers. They are beaten. There are schools that have no buildings, where classes take place under trees. It’s a mess.
It’s worth shouting about. It’s worth going to court about. It’s worth writing open letters about. But that doesn’t happen. Not round here. Take a look at that picture of the panties again. It’s one man. Just one guy, holding up some ropey yellow panties on a piece of bent wire. In the middle of a crowd of thousands with legitimate issues. Marching on behalf of tens of thousands. Affecting the education of millions.
And that’s what our leaders chose to act on. That’s what got them out of bed. That’s what got the headlines and the letters and the court actions and the commissions. A pair of panties. Huge yellow panties.
It’s hilarious. And enough to make you weep. And my blog is not for weeping. So no more. Next week I’ll teach you how to braai boerewors instead. Or tell you why it’s a shame that our potholes aren’t being fixed by an insurance company.